Skip to main content

Afterlives of Medieval Manuscripts

After the development of the mechanical printing press, manuscripts fell into disuse in the West (although the practice continued into the early modern period in the Middle East, as seen [here]). Printed books continued to imitate manuscripts in layout, script style, and illustration. The earliest printed leaves were made not on paper, which quickly dominated the market, but on parchment, prepared as it would have been for a manuscript codex. Gradually, printers adapted the page to suit the demands of presswork. 

The following three sets of leaves date from only ten to fifteen years after the parchment Books of Hours above, but they demonstrate a significant leap in printing technology. Printed on paper with metal-cut borders, text is printed in both black and red. This would have necessitated two passes through the press, but removes the work of creating all initials by hand.

Gurney Pam 0020v.jpg

[Leaf from De Officiis], Italy, 1465?
Gurney Pam 0020

Other manuscripts, as were seen in the [Service Books] section, were cut up and used as fragments for binding and covering newer printed books. Parchment is a very strong and durable material, and although the texts of these books were no longer valuable, the material they were written on was. The folds and creases are clearly visible on this leaf which has been reconstructed. The creases suggest that it may have been used as a parchment cover for the boards of a different book.

Afterlives of Medieval Manuscripts